The Atlanta Falcons got that elusive first win of the 2019 season Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles, and showed a lot about themselves in the process. The team all at once showed some elite defending, explosive offense, frustrating drive stalls and coverage lapses.
The Philly win was a dual conundrum: It showed a potentially great team that’s still working out some very exact issues. There’s a lot you can learn from a game like this, but these were our key takeaways.
1. Matt Ryan and Dirk Koetter aren’t quite on the same page yet
Though Ryan absolutely deserves credit for leading the team on yet another game-winning drive and playing pretty well overall, some of his decision making was absolutely in question Sunday night.
Throwing three picks, all of which felt at least somewhat avoidable, is highly uncharacteristic of the former MVP. Coupled with his picks last week, it does make us wonder why the Mattural has struggled with turning the ball over as he has.
Part of that has to be the opponents and the protection he has. Minnesota and Philadelphia have perhaps the two best defensive lines in the NFL, and both teams are well-coached and can ballhawk at will. Ryan’s OL has already seen injuries this year, and you have to guess that makes him skittish.
Though, some of it, particularly the two in the red zone this season, feel like the plays just weren’t clicking. Koetter, the returned OC, used to love to use tight ends in the end zone to get his six points, but Ryan has struggled with that connection so far this year.
They’ve found much more success going to wide receivers down low, or by scoring from far out. All the touchdowns this year have come from Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley.
Koetter is still trying to figure out the run game, but they’re two picks in with trying to use non-WR options close to the goal line. You have to wonder if this portends that Ryan and Koetter just aren’t clicking just yet in certain facets. That’ll come with time, hopefully.
2. Koetter does love using Ridley
It’s encouraging that Koetter is not struggling with using 2018 first-round pick Ridley.
On the contrary, the former Alabama star has 169 yards and two touchdowns already this season, which makes him firmly the second fiddle to Jones in the passing game.
Koetter had great success in Atlanta deploying Jones and Roddy White, and that lethal combo was a big part of why the offense did so well in 2012. Here’s hoping, as Ryan and Koetter get more comfortable in their reunion, this duo does even more damage than it already has.
Ridley absolutely looks the part, though, and will have at least four more seasons (including this one) of lighting up secondaries with the Jet.
3. The defensive line is coming together
No one expected Atlanta’s defensive line to do a ton against Philadelphia’s iron wall of an offensive line, but the Falcons DL looked like an obvious problem.
Grady Jarrett leads what could be a resurgent unit, with guys like Vic Beasley, Adrian Clayborn, Takk McKinley, Allen Bailey, Tyeler Davison, Jack Crawford and rookie John Cominsky all making plays Sunday night.
Though without a sack against Philly, McKinley played one of his best games as a pro, hassling the Eagles all night long. Beasley is playing much better than the last two years, and having Clayborn back is proving to be a definite boost.
The interior DL held the run quite nicely, holding the Eagles rushing attack to 49 total yards.
We didn’t really know what to think of how this group would do, particularly against such a stout, physical group like Philadelphia. Sunday shows that these players, combined with Dan Quinn’s scheming, might surpass expectations.
4. Special teams need work
The Falcons special teams unit didn’t have a banner night against the Eagles, though some of that was out of its control.
The team saw punter Matt Bosher struggle with a lower body injury, which kept his punting looking fluky and ineffective. He was trying, of course, but it put the Falcons in tough field position on defense all through his snaps.
Kicker Matt Bryant silenced the worries at first with a 50-yard clean boot to get the Falcons on the board, and hit all of his extra points. But he had a rough whiff from short that shows he might not quite be as clutch as we’re accustomed until he gets more comfortable.
The special teams unit has to be careful about penalties, with flags hurting the team with field positioning, too. The Falcons offense had far too many drives starting on the goal line.
5. The run game is just not working right now
The Falcons only have 130 total rushing yards this season, with Ito Smith (63 yards) leading the backfield.
Devonta Freeman (41 yards) shows his explosive play when he gets into a rhythm, but it’s happening far too little. The team has also left Brian Hill, the preseason star, and promising rookie Quadree Ollison on the inactives list for the first two games of 2019.
Fullback Keith Smith seems to be settling in just fine, but the Falcons’ game is not just yet.
We could just chalk this up as the Falcons starting out against two teams you just can’t really run that much on in Minnesota and Philly, but you wonder if this trend will continue.
Perhaps the team gets it rolling in the run game against Indianapolis Sunday. They’ll need to, as the results so far just aren’t where they need to be for sustained offensive success.